We can regulate our metabolism through foods choices, mealtimes, and daily lifestyle practices. I define metabolism as the ability to digest and absorb the nutrients in food, and the ability to eliminate the excess. Excess takes the form of what we don’t use as well as accumulated toxins. The key to a healthy metabolism is the right foods at the right times.
Our digestion is not on call 24 hours a day; our body is most ready to receive nourishment at certain times. Eating at the proper times activates our metabolism, whereas eating between these times or skipping meals deactivates it. A person with a poor diet who sits down to eat at regular times will have better health than someone with a poor diet and poor eating habits.
Starting breakfast by 8:30 a.m., lunch between 11 and 1 p.m., and dinner between 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. are the best times of day for our meals. Lunch is the most important meal of the day to be consistent with as it has the greatest ability to regulate our metabolism
-Sit down to eat without doing other things
-Start meals at the proper times and don’t skip meals
-Eat slowly, and chew food thoroughly
-Stop eating before full
-Sleep and rise early–the earlier you eat, the more active your metabolism will be
-Do not eat at least three hours before going to sleep
-Have daily, life related activity, especially cleaning and walking outside everyday
-Try to eat with other people
-Have a good belly laugh every day
-Do things for other people
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Traditional diets have a variety of foods and beverages that are naturally refreshing and healthy. Almost all healthy diets have a high moisture content from cooked grains and beans, vegetables, soups, fruits, and fermented foods. The modern diet with staples such as meat, poultry, eggs, cheese, and baked/fried foods, is a very dry diet that creates cravings for unhealthy refreshing foods such as soda and ice cream. This is a practical example of how healthy foods create cravings for healthy beverages and vice versa.
Having a diet with a high moisture content reduces the need to drink as often or excessively. The most important liquid is in food. When we eat foods with a high moisture content, our bodies can utilize the fluids in these foods more efficiently. Healthy foods want to be chewed more as well, and become naturally sweet and refreshing as we chew. Drinking to quench thirst, however, is a natural supplement to refreshing foods. Mild beverages, such as herbal and grain teas or room temperature/chilled water are thirst quenching.
I see “refreshing” as one of the most important nutrients; it is something everyone craves. Refreshing helps us to naturally feel mentally and emotionally revitalized. These foods naturally reduce stress because they gently disperse heat and energy.
-boiled grains, especially when chewed
-steamed greens with lemon
-any type of juicy lettuce, cucumbers, radishes, carrots, or celery
-watermelon, and other juicy fruits like strawberries, peaches and plums
-sauerkraut and mild vinegars (cider vinegars, brown rice vinegars)
-sweet, fruity olives
-mints and cooling herbs, such as peppermint, basil, and parsley
-chilled, roasted barley tea (though bitter) is a very thirst quenching beverage
What are some of your favorite refreshing foods and beverages?
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Natural pickling and fermentation are the most unique, traditional forms of food preservation that enhances the quality of the foods. Fermentation is an external, predigestion process that converts complex nutrients to simpler ones. Common fermented foods and beverages include sourdough, vinegar, and wine. Pickling is a type of controlled fermentation using salt. Examples of pickled products are miso, sauerkraut, and olives.
Modern preservation techniques stop the changes in foods. In essence, these foods become sterile. Natural pickling and fermentation facilitates continuous, ongoing transformation and enhancement of certain aspects of foods. For example, pressed apples (apple cider), if unpasteurized, over time ferments into hard apple cider, an alcoholic beverage. If left to further ferment, hard apple cider turns into apple cider vinegar. Each product is unique, and in some ways, mimics the aging process in human beings. Although the fresh, bright aspects may decline as we lose youth, our deeper, essential qualities become enhanced as we age.
-For healthy digestion, we need both prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics are the fibers in whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits.
-Pickled and fermented foods, commonly now referred to as sources of probiotics, when combined with prebiotics, help create the healthiest environment for gut microbes to flourish.
-We have a second nervous system called the enteric nervous system in our gut. It is composed of the same types of cells that make up our central nervous system. Pickled and fermented foods bolster and support the connection between the cells that are shared between these two nervous systems.
-We also have two digestive systems. Mental, emotional, and digestive health are interrelated and affected by the foods we eat. Our digestive system processes liquids whereas the brain and nervous system process thoughts, ideas, and vibrations.
-Naturally pickled and fermented foods support the development of gut microbes which prevents unhealthy microbes from developing and flourishing.
-Pickled and fermented foods help develop a natural, efficient immune response, and also suppresses inflammatory response often associated with allergies, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
-Pickled and fermented foods best express the qualities of a particular climate. Wine, beer, and miso are common examples of how microclimates affect the quality of a fermented product. If we want to assimilate to another environment, eating or drinking native, naturally pickled and fermented foods help us adapt more easily to that climate.
-The basis of a healthy plant-based diet are grains, beans, vegetables and fruits. The most important probiotics for this way of eating are miso (grain and bean), sauerkraut (vegetable), and umeboshi plum (fruit).
-Pickled and fermented foods aid the digestive process and our ability to absorb and utilize nutrients.
-It is the interaction of foods that provides the greatest benefit. Pickled and fermented foods should be eaten in combination with other foods during a meal. Having miso soup, sauerkraut or a glass of wine during a meal provides the fullest benefit.
Kimberly, a nutritional therapy student in the UK, recently posted on her blog “The Little Plantation” about miso soup and her experience with macrobiotics. I wish to thank her for encouraging people to read “The Complete Macrobiotic Diet.” I’d also like to compliment her for recognizing that our style of macrobiotic practice is an orderly approach to life that connects us with our environment and brings us to better overall health.
It is clear that modern society does not prioritize health. When we begin macrobiotic practice, it takes effort to create an orderly, daily schedule and to carve out time for meals. However, over time, these health-supporting habits become second nature. The way in which we practice macrobiotics influences and determines our overall health. Because health is a direction, and not a fixed state, any efforts we make to improve our dietary and lifestyle practice moves us in the direction of health.
When I began my practice, I also thought that macrobiotics was based on a traditional Japanese diet. However, over time I began to realize this way of eating and living was common to the world’s long standing civilizations. With few exceptions, traditional diets from our ancestors around the world were based around a variety of grains, beans, vegetables, soups, pickled and fermented foods, seeds, nuts, and fruits. Not only that, but it is also common that our ancestors had lifestyles that aligned with nature’s orderly cycles.
Each civilization has made significant contributions that have become a part of our personal practice. For example, we eat a variety of whole grains and their products from temperate climatic zones. Not only do we eat brown rice, we also include pasta, polenta, unyeasted sourdough bread, and oatmeal. We tried to illustrate the global influence in our practice in the recipe section of “The Complete Macrobiotic Diet,” which serves as a reference point for those interested in integrating global cuisines. The future of modern macrobiotic practice is in embracing the contributions of these cuisines, which includes the traditional Japanese diet from which macrobiotics was originally based.
Thanks Kimberly for sharing with your readership what you have been learning and for helping to dispel some of the misconceptions about modern macrobiotic practice. As time goes on, macrobiotic, vegetarian, and vegan practices will align more closely as we focus more on planning our meals around grains, beans, and vegetables.
Craving sweets is usually associated with emotional satisfaction. We often feel guilty indulging our taste for sweets. Craving sweets may not be such a bad thing. Sweet is the most important and healthiest taste, followed by salty and sour tastes, followed by bitter and pungent tastes. It is the predominant and most abundant taste in healthy food, and also leads to the greatest emotional satisfaction. It is important to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy sweets. Healthy, sweet flavors come from complex sugars naturally found in grains, beans, and vegetables. These complex sugars break down in the digestive process and release their sweetness through chewing.
Healthy food is predominated by a mildly sweet, pleasant, and satisfying taste. Complex sugars give us steady and long-lasting energy. However, simple sugars from refined and processed grains, sugar, honey, fructose, and alcohol, often cause our blood sugar to spike and then crash. These same simple sugars create an acidic condition in our blood that causes a loss in minerals and other valuable nutrients that neutralize the acidity. If we don’t get enough healthy, mild sweets, we tend to crave poor quality sweets available from refined carbohydrates, simple sugars, and/or alcohol. The natural sweet taste in the modern diet is hard to find. However, in all traditional diets, there was an abundance of sweet tastes from grains, beans, and vegetables. The sweet taste was enhanced through various cooking styles.
We can satisfy our need for sweets by choosing different grains, beans, and vegetables in different cooking combinations. There are three types of healthy sweet tastes: well-cooked, well-cooked and puréed, and light, refreshing sweets. Natural sweetness can be enhanced with the use of grain-based concentrated sweeteners such as rice syrup and barley malt.
Here are some suggestions that demonstrate the different types of healthy sweets and how to recognize them.
Onions, carrots, winter squash and sweet potatoes all become sweeter the longer they are cooked.
Well-cooked and Puréed
Puréed vegetable soups are sweet and creamy and can be made from onion and cauliflower or carrot and sweet potato.
Light, refreshing sweet
Light, refreshing sweetness can come from steaming, blanching, or quickly sautéing greens such as kale, broccoli, or Napa cabbage.
I recently viewed this talk by Dan Buettner on the Blue Zones. The Blue Zones are the places in the world with the highest concentrations of centenarians–the people who live to be 100 or beyond. He compiled research about their eating habits and food choices over the course of three years. It came as no surprise to me that what he discovered about people who live long, healthy lives, shares striking similarities to what we’ve been recommending to our clients for over forty years.
I’d like to emphasize the common points of our mutual recommendations, as well as bring to light some things he briefly mentioned. He noted that people in the Blue Zones have a plant-based diet centered around grains, beans, and vegetables, and supplemented by seeds, nuts, and fruits. This is consistent with our recommendations. He also spoke about the significant difference between yeasted bread and naturally fermented sourdough bread and its effects on our blood sugar. All naturally pickled and fermented foods help regulate the digestion and absorption of nutrients as well as help regulate blood sugar. Although he mentioned sourdough bread and red wine, he did not get into other equally important pickled and fermented products (such as naturally made miso soup and sauerkraut) which aid in healthy digestion and enhance our ability to absorb all nutrients. We also share the observation that it is the combination and interaction of different foods within a meal which promotes the greatest health and longevity.
Longevity is a measure of the past more than the present. Someone who is 100 today was born in 1915 when the diet and lifestyle of people was much simpler– mainly organically-grown, simply processed, home-cooked, and plant-based food. People in the Blue Zones have maintained this pattern of eating. Although the Blue Zones are currently being affected by changes in the global diet, the centenarians today were raised with this simple, wholesome pattern. Time will only tell how modern, refined, highly-processed, chemicalized foods will affect our health and longevity.
History is our reality check. We’ve inherited the same pattern of dietary and lifestyle practices from all of the world’s long-standing civilizations, as can be observed today in the remaining Blue Zones. It is now time to re-establish the worldwide pattern for health and longevity that we’ve inherited from our ancestors. We also hope that this pattern will become a model for scientific research and inquiry.
I was recently surprised to read about the destruction of the natural life experienced by lorikeets when unnatural foods are introduced into their diets. Many are feeding lorikeets simple sugars from syrups, honeys, and jams to encourage them into their backyards. In turn, the regular diet of the lorikeets is changing.
Lorikeets are natural vegetarians. When they eat these unnatural foods, they become very aggressive in the pursuit of eating meat. Over time, they become ill, and develop diseases that are not found in their natural way of life. The health issues facing the lorikeets in Australia are remarkably similar to many who eat the standard American diet.
Imbalances perpetuate themselves. The foods we eat creates and changes the balance in our digestive system. Food creates our taste for other foods and eating unhealthy foods creates cravings for other unhealthy foods. It seems we have followed a similar pattern to the lorikeets. Since we introduced more processed flours and refined sugars and syrups, meat consumption has steadily increased. Many people aggressively pursue and strongly defend their right to eat meat. Consider that lorikeets naturally have a high carbohydrate, low-protein diet, which is similar to our natural diet.
Fortunately, balance also perpetuates itself. When we begin to reintroduce complex carbohydrates from whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits, we restore the natural balance of our digestive system. This leads to recovering a taste for healthy, natural foods as well as a gentle and enthusiastic approach towards sharing these ideas with others.
In a recent entry , I began to discuss the benefits of cooking food. Cooking is a lifetime study that makes humans unique. It is a practice we can enjoy and learn from everyday without end.
Each method of cooking affects the color, taste, aroma, and textures of foods in different ways. The best cooking looks good, smells good, tastes good, and holds our interest for the entire meal. We receive the most nourishment and satisfaction from the variety of flavors that are present when enjoying the combination of raw, cooked, and naturally pickled and fermented foods at our meals.
Cooking enhances the bioavailability of nutrition in foods by concentrating certain nutrients on the surface, making them easier to digest and absorb. I’d like to illustrate these points by looking at just a few methods of preparation.
-Naturally pickling and fermenting foods is a unique method of preparation because nutrients and probiotics are produced that simply did not exist before. Naturally fermented sauerkraut is much more than cabbage and sea salt. We recommend miso (grain and bean ferment), sauerkraut (vegetable ferment), and umeboshi plum (fruit ferment) in our macrobiotic practice because they aid in the digestion and assimilation of the full range of plant-based foods.
-Baking makes foods look and taste richer. It is considered healthy, but the main result of baking is that the fats and proteins in the food become more bioavailable.
-Blanching brings out the intense brightness of vegetables. This is because it enhances and concentrates the B vitamins, vitamin C, as well as minerals.
-Currently, there is much controversy over the use of oil in cooking. Is cooking with oil beneficial or harmful? It is a question I have been pondering a long time and I would like to share some thoughts. Oil has been used in cooking for thousands of years in the world’s long-standing civilizations. It is also used in the cuisines and cultures with the highest longevity. I wonder if cooking with oil is being studied out of context.
It seems to me that high quality sesame or olive oil, used sparingly, has a similar effect as salt in combining with foods. In macrobiotics, we only use salt in cooking in a way to bring out the natural flavors of food without leaving a salty taste. We recommend using oil in a similar way so that it enhances the flavors and energetics of the food without leaving an oily taste. My observation is that the elimination of oil for periods of time (weeks or months) can provide substantial benefit. However, do these benefits last over sustained periods of time? I think it will be seen over time that oil, used properly, has a deeply nourishing and protective quality for the bones, joints, blood vessels, and nervous system.
I hope that these ideas stimulate your creativity to prepare meals that are deeply satisfying and nourishing. The final act of cooking is our enjoyment, chewing well, and giving thanks to nature, the food, and to the cooks. All of these thing wake up the goodness in the food. I will be further exploring these ideas in future blogs.
Recently, The New York Times published a piece Angelina Jolie Pitt wrote regarding her recent medical decisions as they relate to her family’s history and struggle with cancer. In the article, she wrote about her choice to have a double mastectomy and later, to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes. She offered readers the type of options she was offered, such as testing and surgery.
I appreciate her courage to share such a deeply personal situation; I am sorry she had to struggle with such difficult decisions. While I applaud Mrs. Jolie Pitt’s dedication to making her choices known, I believe that many possible options for health and well-being were not offered.
In my 43 years of experience, the combination of dietary practices, activities, and attitudes produces lasting health. It all begins with the desire and willingness to take control of these factors. The daily habits that we form have the biggest impact on shaping our long term health. The science of epigenetics shows that our daily life choices control how our genes express themselves. Cancer genes can be turned on or off through dietary and lifestyle practices.
This checklist will help you move in the direction of health.
– Lasting health starts with our desire to be healthy through natural means.
– Health is natural. Our body wants to be healthy and tries to maintain and return to health at every moment.
– Health is not all or nothing. You will experience the benefits of any healthy dietary and lifestyle practices you incorporate into your life.
– It takes time to gain confidence in your body’s ability to heal through daily lifestyle choices. Once you start to see results, you will gain stronger confidence in your ability to maintain and recover your health.
– Our daily lifestyle practices promote mental clarity and calmness that will help us make important life choices.
– Create a healthy support network of those that also make health a priority.
– Maintain and foster supportive relationships.
– A clear direction towards health provides the best results. Choose one diet and lifestyle practice that suits your needs and goals.
-Plan your meals around whole grains, vegetables, beans, and fruits. Use a variety of methods to prepare meals.
– The combination of books and seminars are important for supporting your journey towards health.
These choices that produce health and longevity are available to everyone. The world is polarizing into two groups of people. There are those who choose personal and environmental health based on aligning and harmonizing with nature. Then, there are those who choose artificial health through trying to control nature, the environment, and their bodies. Which side are you on?
Many believe that cooking destroys the nutrition in foods. Cooking literally transforms the nutrition that is available in foods. This can be done for better, or for worse depending on how food is prepared and cooked. All methods of preparation including pickling and fermenting are a part of cooking. Proper cooking can completely transform food. Michio Kushi called cooking the highest art form because it can create life, transform sickness into health, unhappiness to happiness.
The healthiest food looks beautiful, tastes delicious, engages all of our senses, supports health and clarity of mind, and inspires us to live to our fullest. Cooking brings to life and strengthens our connection to nature. It’s no surprise that some of our most memorable experiences come from a great meal. There’s no match for healthy food cooked over a wood stove or campfire.
Primatologist Richard Wrangham summed up his controversial research in “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human” that gives credence to the act of cooking. Cooking increases and enhances the bioavailability of nutrition in food. Cooking lead to the smaller, more efficient digestive system and larger brain capacity of modern human beings. Primates spend most of their day eating to receive adequate nutrition. Cooking allows us to receive all of our nutrition in two or three meals each day. Cooking also enhances our ability to adapt to different climates, and is a uniqueness to human beings.
Cooking makes nutrition more bioavailable by bringing nutrients to the surface and concentrating them. Different types of cooking bring out different nutrients. Including a variety of foods and using a variety of methods of preparation is a key to receiving abundant nutrition. Changes in color, taste, and texture are evidence of how we’ve transformed the food. In a future post, I will explain more specifically the effects of different methods of preparation.